President Obama signed into law a new measure that will help state governors cope with heating fuel shortages, if they occur again next year as they did last winter — especially with propane.
The National Governors Association had urged Congress to pass the Reliable Home Heating Act, which became law on June 30, although some provisions are delayed because they must be studied for safety by federal authorities.
Gov. Scott Walker, who is chair of the Midwest Governors Association, has made propane issues in the region the top agenda item of the group — viewing it as a regional issue rather than one that states can tackle alone.
He is working with other state authorities and fuel officials here and in other states to address any potential supply and demand issues for the upcoming winter.
"Our goal is to take proactive steps to avoid having to utilize these emergency provisions," he said at passage of the Reliable Home Heating Act.
"However, should the need arise in the future, this new law will offer states greater flexibility while keeping safety at the forefront of our actions, and it will also provide states with valuable information," Walker added.
The law will loosen some transportation regulations in order to deal with a home heating fuel shortage — covering propane, heating oil or natural gas – and to cut some red tape in cases where governors find their state is in an emergency situation.
The bill was only introduced in March and quickly worked its way through Congress. It was intended to provide greater flexibility and information to governors to address fuel emergencies in the future.
If a state governor declares a state of emergency caused by a shortage of residential heating fuel the law will allow an initial 30-day emergency period and more if it is determined that the state of emergency is ongoing.
During those periods, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration can suspend certain federal transportation codes for drivers or motor carriers providing residential home heating oil.
The bill directs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to recognize any 30-day emergency period declared by a state governor due to a shortage of residential heating fuel (and up to two additional 30-day periods) as one during which FMCSA federal motor carrier safety regulations shall not apply to any motor carrier or driver operating a commercial motor vehicle providing residential heating fuel in a geographic area designated as being under a state of emergency.
The bill is also being hailed as providing greater information to state governors.
It directs the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration, using data compiled from the Administration's Weekly Petroleum Status Reports, to notify the governor of each state in a Petroleum Administration for Defense District if that district's inventory of residential heating fuel has been below the most recent five-year average for more than three consecutive weeks.
That's something that could indicate an emerging fuel crisis.
The new law also directs the Secretary of Transportation (DOT) to study the impacts on safety from the extension of exemptions issued by the state governors.
The Secretary of Transportation is also directed by the new law to amend certain codes and federal regulations to conform to provisions of the bill.
An "emergency" can be declared if the inventory of residential heating fuel in a district falls below the most recent five-year average for more than three consecutive weeks.